Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Film Review | The Guard (2011)

Four years ago, I walked into my local cinema to watch a film starring Brendan Gleeson and directed by someone with the surname McDonagh. I didn't know much about the film, but was blown away by it, mainly because it delivered much more than I expected from the little I did know. That film was In Bruges. Four years later, The Guard also stars Gleeson and is also directed by a McDonagh (this time John Michael, brother of Martin who helmed In Bruges), and so will therefore unavoidably undergo comparison with the earlier film. I certainly had my great enjoyment of In Bruges in my head as I pressed 'play'. But the comparison is likely in the long term to do the film very few favours; The Guard deals with similar themes, from a similar Irish perspective and with a similar blackly comic tone, but John Michael never reaches the heights of his brother's film.

Gleeson plays Sergeant Gerry Boyle, a garda (Irish police officer) with unorthodox methods and whose morally questionable social pursuits include taking drugs and hiring prostitutes. When FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) comes to Boyle's town to investigate a gang of drug smugglers, the two unwillingly end up working together.

The cast is The Guard's strongest feature, with Gleeson reliably excellent in a typically quirky and rough-edged role that he is quickly becoming known for. Boyle is quite similar to Ken, Gleeson's character from In Bruges, in that he has his own set of moral codes by which he lives his life; whilst we don't warm to Boyle straight away, we quickly come to respect him and his way of life. Cheadle is also strong as Boyle's counterpoint as a very authentic-feeling Bureau agent, managing to stay believably straight-laced without straying into Hollywood stereotypes. The supporting cast collectively do well, with Mark Strong putting in a particularly good effort as one of the drug smugglers without a huge amount of screen time.

McDonagh's script and direction earmark him as a talent in both comedy and drama, as well as action towards the film's conclusion; where he is less successful is in blending these elements together in the right way. In isolation, there are scenes which put across genuine humour and emotion very well, but when these elements are considered as a whole things just don't quite mesh at several points throughout. I also found the drug-smuggling plot a little uninteresting on a few occasions, lacking in a meaty element or twist to make it anything more than your average crime story seen umpteen times before in gangster films.

The Guard's key weakness, ultimately, is that it isn't In Bruges. It tries to do an awful lot of similar things, and whilst it does many of them well, it never does any of them quite as well as the earlier film. That's not to say The Guard is a weak film; on the contrary, I enjoyed it a great deal. It's just a shame that one McDonagh's film starring Gleeson will undoubtedly be compared to the other, and in this comparison The Guard will almost always come in second place.


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